Digital technology has advanced more rapidly than ever before in the last 20 years. However, people may not be likely to understand the risks of this technology. This is due to developers not being transparent about functionality. This development has also far outpaced educational provision in schools, leading to a world in which we are encouraged to engage with digital technology, but we don’t quite understand it, how it works or what it does; therefore, if our data is harvested and sold it is much more difficult to understand when, why and how this is happening.
The term used to describe this new technology is artificial intelligence (AI), but this term is not defined or well understood. The term ‘artificial intelligence’ hints at a technology that is able to, on some level, work in the same way as a human mind. Currently, we can’t even understand the human mind fully, so it would be very difficult to create something that worked like one.
Despite the immaturity of the type of technologies called AI, increasingly, they are able to make decisions about our lives, such as how money is allocated, how much freedom a person is allowed and how much monitoring to conduct on society. These decisions can have long-lasting and all-encompassing effects on both individuals and society. Still, we do not have a route to accountability when technology adversely affects us.
One key aspect we need to understand is how our data is harvested and used. When purchasing smart devices, we aren’t given an instruction book on how this works. We can end up sharing data when there is little or no certainty about how the data will be used. AI can also obtain data from the data fingerprints consumers leave behind when they engage in daily activities, as in the case of a shopper looking around a store equipped with facial recognition technology. This has led to a legal challenge after the fact.
Three ways in which humans can end up interacting with technology are: trusting the technology too much; overly emotional attachments to a product such as Alexa; and being exploited by these technologies.
We have no instruction book or guidelines on how technological devices collect our data, so we may not know how to stop the devices from collecting our data. We might have our data taken and used without our knowledge. This can make us feel demotivated, exploited and helpless. However, one key thing we can do is stop thinking about devices as helpful or ‘humanlike.’ When we do this, we lose the objective viewpoint and have a lower risk awareness of what the device might be doing with our data. For example, Leila, a sex worker, had shielded her identity on her Facebook account to have and maintain a separate personal life. Leila was shocked to see some of her regular clients recommended by the “People You May Know” function. Leila was panic-stricken that not only would she be recognized but that her personal life may become connected with her work life. This has serious consequences. According to Leila, “the worst nightmare of sex workers is to have your real name out there, and Facebook connecting people like this is the harbinger of that nightmare.” For Leila, like for domestic violence victims or political activists, privacy invasion is not only frightening, it may become a matter of life, death or time in jail.
In another example, when a consumer requested his own data from Amazon, he received transcripts of Alexa’s interpretations of voice commands, even though he did not own any Alexa devices. These transcripts belonged to someone else. The investigators involved in this experience said, “[we were able to] navigate around a complete stranger’s private life without his knowledge, and the immoral, almost voyeuristic nature of what we were doing got our hair standing on end.” This type of exploitation could mean the customer is arrested or reported even though the transcripts did not belong to him.
We have to work to make technology more transparent. We also need, as consumers, to be clearer on how the technology operates and what data it takes from us. Education is a major driver to ensure that every citizen is aware of their rights, how technology is used to shape their lives and the risks involved. We are all attached to the internet through some device. This makes it very hard to unplug from the same systems causing so much damage to users. Read more: https://bit.ly/3QVfhRx
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